Equalizing the Power Between Us in the Social Good Sector

April 22, 2019 Wendy Watson-Hallowell

What has us feel powerless in our efforts to influence others? How can we balance the power between us in key relationships to create the greatest common ground and the greatest common good? It starts with challenging and changing our limiting beliefs about where our power comes from and who has the right to have it.

Many of us believe our power is defined by our ‘role’ in society – in the contract, on the organizational chart, or within the hierarchy of our family tree. This has us see ourselves having less or more power than others to influence the outcome. If we feel that our wants and needs are not as important or more important than those around us, we may see others as ‘above us’ or ‘below us’. This perspective can prompt us to say yes to things we really don’t want to do, prevent us from asking for what we really want, or include/exclude others when working towards shared solutions. This limits the depth and breadth of win/win options we can generate and get buy-in for. We may not earn the same salary, have equal decision-making power, or take equal risks. Yet, we ARE ALL equal in our right to have a positive experience in our work together. We ARE ALL equal in our right to get what we need to be successful in the role we are playing, equal in our right to give what we want to give, and equal in our right to NOT give when it creates an obligation or a burden we are not willing to carry.

 

What Purpose Do We Share?

Unless we are crystal clear about both the purpose of our relationship and what we want to experience within it, we may be aiming at different goals. The question to ask ourselves and get agreement on with others is: “what do we want for ourselves and for the relationship?” Until we clarify the experience we want to have in spending time and energy together, we have no shared purpose to aim toward. Once we define our shared purpose, we can start to explore our individual wants in pursuing that purpose and create boundaries around the support we are willing to give to support the wants of another.

Here are three examples of shared purpose:

  • Two program leaders in a large nonprofit: We have an easy, open, and respectful relationship that reflects a mutual understanding and valuing of each other’s work and strengths. We use communication and coordination methods that keep us both on the same page internally and externally.
  • The CTO and CFO of a large nonprofit: We are in lockstep with the what, the how and the when of the work while using a variety of collaboration methods to develop and deploy talent that we both have faith and trust in to deliver.
  • A nonprofit development leader and a foundation program officer: We identify, create and resource shared opportunities for the success of local youth in ways that leverage both of our strengths and networks.

If you have not yet defined what you want for yourself and the relationship, drafting and refining a shared purpose together is a great place to start. This will set you both up for success and provide an anchor for discussion or negotiation. To learn more about how to create and sustain a shared purpose, you can read advice from the New York Times bestsellers “Crucial Conversations” and “Crucial Accountability.”

 

Our Wants and Their Wants

What we want and what is important to us is just that – what we want. There is nothing wrong with our wanting it, and there is no need to ‘justify’ wanting it. At the same time, no one else is responsible for us getting what we want. We may not get it in the way we expect, AND we can still want it. We have the right to want what we want without interference or judgement from ourselves or others. To create win/win experiences, we need to extend this right and invite others to do the same even when we want different things.

Many of us do not ask for what we want based on past experiences. We project our past into the future to defend against being disappointed or having our wants rejected again. This can keep us from even considering that we can have what we want. As a result, we struggle to recognize what we want, and if we do know what we want, we rarely ask for it.

When we tend to think that what we want comes from others (people, government, hierarchy, systems, etc.) we give our power away or ask others to give their power to us. If we think others need to do or be different to get what we want, we often feel stuck waiting for them to change or pushing others to take actions they do not buy into. The reality is that other people may provide some of the support to get what we want, but what we want starts and ends with us. It is our job to ask for what we want and say no to what we don’t want. It takes courage and persistence to ask for what we want, especially when we know that others want something different. Our job is to state what we want anyway and then be open to ways it can come rather than looking to the other person to fulfill it for us or feeling obligated to support what they want.

 

What We Are Willing to Give

Once we both know what the other wants in creating our shared purpose, we can determine if there is anything we are willing to give to support what they want. When we choose to give only what feels good to us, giving feels like a GIFT we want to give. If it feels like a burden or an obligation, don’t offer it. Then it’s their turn to determine what they are willing to give to support what we want – if anything. This way, we are both giving only when it feels like something we want to give. If either of us says yes to something that creates a burden or obligation, we have compromised the power that we need to achieve our shared purpose. What we give does not have to be a compromise or a balancing of the scales from the past. It is simply what we WANT to give – not what we think we should give or must give. Regardless of our role, we are equal in our right to decide what we are and are not willing to do to support others in getting what they want, and they have the same right as we do.

 

Here’s a situational example of how it all comes together:

Shared Purpose: A pleasant and relaxed 4-hr drive to the company event together
What I want Common Ground What he wants

 

●      Don’t drive Share the driving 50-50 ●      Don’t drive
●      Listen to Rock and Roll Podcast we both enjoy ●      Listen to Country music
●      Stop to stretch 3x Stop to Stretch 3x ●      Stop to stretch 1x

 

When we start to see what we want, and what we are willing to do from a new frame of reference, we begin to see everyone’s wants and needs as equal which frees us up to see new solutions in our relationships. From this new perspective, we stop looking to the other person as the source of what we want, we take responsibility for what is best for us, and create win/win solutions that empower everyone involved. When we approach our key relationships in this way consistently, we take back our power and give it back to others as well.

Our job is to state what we want and be open to the support we receive, while not being attached to how we receive it. Our source of fulfillment is never dependent on the other person. We can equalize the power in the relationship when we view our wants and what we are willing to give as equal with others. From here, we can each stand up for what we want without saying yes to something we don’t. From THIS place we can create the greatest common ground and common good together.

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